This collection exhibition consists of artworks in paintings, photographs and sculptures from the National Art Gallery of Namibia Permanent Collection, Government of the Republic of Namibia Permanent Collection in collaboration with contemporary artists. The exhibition aims to explore the current characteristic of landscape art in Namibia, land as home, land as activism and land as witness. LANDSCAPE is tracing its innovation throughout history by highlighting the aesthetic quality, and expressive power of the individual works that depict various landscapes as subject and seek to open viewer’s mind to a vantage point of the past in comparison to the present.
The exhibition features artworks by Frans Nambinga, David Amukoto, Petrus Amuthenu, Nicola Brandt, Amy Schoeman, Barbara Pirron, John Liebenberg, Ndasuunje ‘Papa’ Shikongeni, Isamael Shivute, Anita Steyn, Vilho Nuumbala, Hanne Marrott-Alpers, Helga Khol, Paul Kiddo, Jurgen Katambo, Erich Mayer, Barbara BÖhlke, Alfeus Mateus, Shawn van Eeden, Kaleb Haipinge, Libbolius Nekundi, Martine Masson, David Indongo, Christian Goltz, Nicolaas Maritz, Edson Nicolai, Gerrit van Schouwenberg, Shiya Kharuseb and Tony Figueira. LANDSCAPE’s allure respites artists through their engagement of artworks to decolonize art by placing pre-colonial thought and colonial works in dialogue with post-colonial thought, practice and interpretation that seek to unsettle settler colonialism.
Erastus Hangula, NAGN Junior Curator
The South African photographer Santu Mofokeng proposes that landscape is not separated from the self: ‘Landscape is not geography, certainly not in the romantic sense. It is about your view, where you live, where you die, that is your landscape.’ For Mofokeng the landscape is seen, experienced and embodied. It can be said that no view created by an artist can adequately convey the profound sense of embodiment of place that Mofokeng speaks of.In the context of the urgency of land restitution, Mofokeng’s description has become increasingly relevant. The ‘western’ historical meaning of land, or ‘landscape’, has little relevance to the demands for land but nonetheless has a tenuous, uncomfortable connection.
The scholar Renzo Baas describes the mind-sets behind many of the earlier representations of landscape: ‘The production of the “empty” landscape, with its rhetoric and rationality of terra nullius, is infused with white potential and disavows previous claims to these so-called “empty” spaces. The colonizer – by first possessing the land artistically – can claim the discursive landscape and start to infuse it with ideals imported from the metropole [colonial power networks in Europe] … The colony becomes a space in which knowledge about the “Other” is produced as much as knowledge about the Self is disseminated.’
The landscape, however, is not empty and has never been empty. In places like Swakopmund and !Nami#nus the land and unmarked graves remain a silent witness to the colonial legacy. The colonizer’s imprint can still be seen in various forms such as architecture, monuments, museum exhibits and artefacts, remaining street names and fences that mark off vast tracts of commercial and private farmland. Beyond the representation of seemingly ‘benign’ activities and landscapes, the colonial visual archive offers stark contrasts. Brushing up closely with snapshots of white colonial agents at leisure and in pursuit of their projects, are images of forced labour and brutality, and of the German-Namibian War of 1904–1908 during which the colonial genocide took place. Notwithstanding the dehumanizing portrayals of black and brown bodies, these images also give visual sovereignty and evidence of the continued presence on the land of those who lived here prior to the arrival of the colonizer. Nevertheless, these colonial photographic archives primarily reveal the attitudes and aesthetics of white supremacist patriarchy and how it is mapped on the land.
The politics around the land is based on a deeply visceral identification with possession and ownership, and the need for a sense of belonging and safety, with a vision towards a horizon without boundaries. After waves of violence and displacement, links to ancestral lineage, and in turn to ancestral land, are beginning to dominate the conversation. Well before independence, the Namibian artist John Muafangejo (1943–1987) already began to reflect critically on the social and political environment of his country and that of South Africa. Muafangejo’s woodcut prints and his powerful social commentary still inspire a younger generation of artists. Contemporary artists attempt to give accounts on behalf of the land in formats that range from the literal/documented to metaphor and poetic license – yet even the sincerity of an artist or photographer’s encounter with the landscape – and all that exists within it – cannot be equated with truth. Nonetheless, through empathic engagement, a sensitive interpretation may be offered, and the viewer might be moved to think differently.
With a range of strategies and formats critically-engaged artists and activists, including eco-feminists and queer bodies are challenging the mastery by only a few, of what should be our shared world. They have the capacity to re-map possible new futures both onto place and their own being. In an increasing number of performance and collective works, and the use of the body in their works, artists are attempting to redefine their place in the contemporary landscape. Against the background of legacies of occupation, genocide, forced removals and economic disenfranchisement, the present generation continues to fight to have its voices heard and transmits the knowledge and memory of past (and present) traumas in ways that go well beyond the visual image. They are communicated through oral histories, ritual, in music, in places of historical significance and most of all, in the gaps and spaces in-between visual representations.
Ndeenda Shivute and Nicola Brandt
“History is not in the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history”. James Baldwin, I am not your Negro, 2006
LANDSCAPES 2020 present a fundamental opportunity to pose questions about the subject matter in order to unsettle existing interpretations and meanings about them and then to find ways how decolonial narratives may be implemented in non-western art scholarship. Therefore Landscape as Home is re-viewing, re-identifying, self – naming as opposed to being labelled and for rewriting the history of art that integrates non-Western and Indigenous knowledge systems of art, architecture, design, storytelling, skills, philosophies and competencies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with natural surroundings which inform decision-making about fundamental aspects of day-to-day life in a non-western context.
Therefore in a space of 10 years, both contemporary artists exploring and engaging Land as a Home, a reflective tool we will utilise through public programming and education to determine progress and social transformation between (Shanti Town by Shiya Kharusebs’) 2004 and (Frans Nambinga’s Vandaliser) 2013. A present-day national challenge is ownership of land and the economic difficulties documented by artists of immediate surroundings and environment.
Intellectually, LANDSCAPES 2020 highlights the value of intensity originating from communities and the local oral tradition of disseminating knowledge in raising a wide range of new voices. This humanizing exhibitionary ethos is important to positively revalue the cultural traditions and present a counter view to the widespread notions of famine and ‘primitive otherness’ that continue to be perpetuated in the media and which has such a detrimental effect (Gilborn 1995). Henceforth, ‘we look through the objects that circulate in our lives, to see what they disclose about history, society, nature or culture – above all, what they disclose about us,’ Bill Brown, Thing Theory 2001.
Desiree D Nanuses, NAGN Curator
View the exhibition online. Only some items are for sale.